Confidence among U.S. consumers plunged in August to the lowest level since May 1980, adding to concern that weak employment gains and volatility in the stock market will prompt households to retrench.
Bloomberg reported that the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of consumer sentiment slumped to 54.9 from 63.7 the prior month. The gauge was projected to decline to 62, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey.
The biggest one-week slump in stocks since 2008 and the downgrade of country’s top credit rating may be exacerbating consumers’ concerns as unemployment hovers above 9 percent and companies are hesitant to hire. Rising pessimism poses a risk household spending will cool further, hindering a recovery that Federal Reserve policy makers said this week was already advancing “considerably slower” than projected.
“We’re really at the bottom of the barrel right now,” Lindsey Piegza, an economist at FTN Financial in New York, said before the report. “Americans are feeling an increasing level of frustration with their leaders in Washington. We’re also seeing a slew of weaker than expected economic reports.”
Estimates of 69 economists for the confidence measure ranged from 59 to 66.5, according to the Bloomberg survey. The index averaged 89 in the five years leading up to the recession that began in December 2007.
A report from the Commerce Department today showed sales at U.S. retailers climbed 0.5 percent in July, the most in four months, indicating consumers are holding up even as employment slows. Purchases excluding automobiles rose more than forecast.